The most recent edition of Comparative Studies in Society and History (CSSH) focuses on questions of secularity and secularism in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Editor Andrew Shryock, in his Foreword, reminds readers that CSSH “does not do special issues,” but he does concede that this issue has a particular focus:
All of the essays presented here deal specifically with secularism, all came to us as individual submissions, and each author suggests, in their own way, that the current mania for studies of the secular has reached a tipping point. Our goal in this issue is, quite frankly, to tip the secularism literature over, not in hopes of disrupting a fad—we are not dealing with an intellectual fad plain and simple—but in hopes of spilling important ideas in the most promising directions.
This volume deals with three major issues: the secular as governance; the secular as critique; and the secular as analytical frame. The authors each challenge aspects of the discourse of secularism, by way of engagements with their particular subjects. In summarizing Gregory Starrett’s essay, “The Varieties of Secular Experience,” which discusses secularity in Egypt, Shryock comments:
In a freewheeling discussion of authors ranging from Harvey Cox and William James, to Charles Taylor and Max Weber, Starrett makes the case for retiring secularism as an analytical concept and re-engaging with the complexity of real lives, in which the secular, as a normative concept, has currency only in relation to a similarly vexed category, “religion,” against which all notions of the secular acquire their distinctiveness.
In addition to Starrett’s essay, this issue includes articles by Hussein Ali Agrama on Egypt, Nandini Chatterjee on India, James McDougall on the French and Algeria, Joyce Dalsheim on Israel, Kaled Furani on Edward Said, and Kabir Tambar on Turkey, as well as a concluding commentary by John R. Bowen.
Together, these articles should appeal to anthropologists, political scientists, historians, sociologists, scholars of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and religious scholars, among others. Shryock concludes:
Despite the reach and analytical sophistication of these essays, the authors share certain perspectives. None is a strong advocate of secularism as policy, for instance, yet none seems to speak from an avowedly religious position. This lack of identification is puzzling. Is it secular? All of the contributors seem to believe that, whatever else is problematic or interesting about it, secularism is best treated as a modern phenomenon. Again, this stance is puzzling, since state intervention in religious life is as old as state formations themselves, and comparisons across historical periods could be revealing. Finally, all of our contributors seem to agree that secularism is best comprehended as an aspect of state policy and, more generally, as a context for thinking about morality and knowledge that is clearly distinguishable from religious habits and attitudes.
Check out the issue here.